The contentious debate in Washington over raising the debt ceiling causes me to wonder anew about why capable people would want to be politicians. Ego has to be a huge part of it, from my observations, but every once in a while a Michael Bloomberg comes along and gives me renewed hope.
In my experience people generally find politicians to be a scornful class, although they usually like their own politician. Hmm. Do you think that might change if the tax code were reformed and political pork vanished? Perhaps. However, a different facet of human nature might prevail in that case, i.e., the need to justify one’s decision (vote). No one likes to admit mistakes.
Speaking of political mistakes, political columnist Dan K. Thomasson in today’s (7/15/2011) Joplin Globe posted what I take to be a remarkably perceptive and non-partisan assessment of the faults of both political parties. Or maybe “anti-partisan” would be a better term, because he argues that both parties have been to blame for the mess.
Particularly blameful in his assessment is Lyndon Baines Johnson. I recalled that Johnson’s “guns and butter too” philosophy was devastating to the economy but I wasn’t aware of the specific legislative shenanigans he pulled to implement it. Did you realize it was LBJ who “initiated the policy of counting Social Security Trust funds as part of the revenue stream and a hedge against excessive debt”? I didn’t.
The strange fact that the government collects Social Security taxes and then spends rather than saving them was recently discussed in this group of blogs and it was clear that even some experienced political bloggers didn’t know this was the case. That alone is enough in my opinion to nominate LBJ for Damnatio memoriae, not even mentioning the Vietnam war debacle. (On second thought, cancel the nomination. His mistakes deserve castigation, not erasure, lest we repeat them.)
Thomasson also has scathing blame for George W. Bush who,
never met a spending bill or a tax cut he didn’t like so he never vetoed anything significant in that direction during eight years in office.
Excoriating both parties, he says,
It is difficult for those of us who covered Congress in the old days to understand a Republican Party that seems utterly inflexible in its refusal to consider any tax increase whatsoever including closing loopholes for special interests on the theory that to do so would hinder growth and feed the economic woes. Well, we have the renewed tax cuts and unemployment remains above 9 percent and a lot of those jobs just aren’t coming back. At the same time Democrats irresponsibly have used entitlements as a political assault weapon, pandering to those who refuse to believe the need to bring them under control.
Thomasson lays heavy blame on president Obama for not personally intervening sooner, “. . . finally taking an active hand after three years of ignoring the obvious . . . ” Pragmatically, I doubt it would have done much good if he had because messing with entitlements would have angered the electorate and his fellow Democrats in Congress would have balked, big-time. However, one point is telling when Thomason points out that Obama failed to press for implementation of the reforms simply on the basis his own bi-partisan commission. I too blame Obama for that – it was a huge wasted opportunity. But, I think he knew that it would give too much ammunition to his opposition and would have doomed any chance at a second term, so he put politics above the nation’s best interests. Isn’t it a shame that only politicians (usually) get to be president? (Ike, please come back. We need you!)
Thomasson is trying to be a moderate in this situation, something for which I took scatological heat and personal insult in these blogs only yesterday. There is comfort in partisanship and a good deal of fun in dealing out insults and vague innuendo by people who lack credentials or conceal their own bona fides to criticize. And, acting this way takes a lot less research (read, work).